Five Nutritional Tips for Optimal Horse Health
To achieve optimal health and well-being, horses require a natural diet free of the unsuitable and unhealthy ingredients often found in modern horse feeds. While feeding a horse is not overly complicated, a bag of oats is unlikely to hold the key to good health.
1. Believe the nursery rhyme – hay really is for horses
Hay is the most traditional method of conserving grass. There are two main types of hay: seed hay and meadow hay. Meadow hay comprises a wide range of grass and herb species while seed hay consists of just a single species of grass hay. Hay varies greatly in its nutritional content, depending on the time it is harvested. The earlier the hay is harvested, the greater its nutritional value will be. Hay usually contains medium amounts of protein, low to average amounts of sugar and high levels of digestible fibres. It is therefore crucial to the health of your horse’s digestive system.
2. Prevent impaction colic by offering fresh water throughout the day
Impaction colic, a condition in which food gets stuck in a horse’s digestive tract, is more likely to develop when your horse has not consumed enough water and/or has lost water through diarrhoea or sweating. Contrary to popular belief, dehydration can occur in both hot and cold conditions. In warm weather, your horse may struggle to consume enough water to match his losses, while in cold weather, your horse may stop drinking if his water is too cold or has iced up. You should therefore provide plenty of fresh water at most times of the day, even if your horse only drinks once or twice daily.
3. Allow sufficient time for digestion by providing several small meals a day
Your horse’s stomach was designed for grazing and this means that your horse will function better on a feeding plan consisting of several small meals a day. When feeding your horse hay, provide it with half its daily hay allowance in the evening, when your horse has more time to eat and digest its food.
4. Increase your horse’s salt intake using supplementary salt blocks
Most diets do not contain the minerals your horse needs to reach optimal health. To stabilise your horse’s pH and electrolyte levels, you should grant your horse unrestricted access to a trace mineral and salt block.
5. Provide vitamin supplements to boost your horse’s immune functioning
Injuries and working horses often go hand in hand. Training, competing and travelling place stress on your horse’s immune system and this may mean that your horse is more prone to suffering from injuries and illnesses. While the cost of treating severe injuries and illnesses may be covered by your horse insurance UK policy, it is important to remember that such trauma will drastically increase your horse’s need for energy and vitamins. You should therefore ask your vet about the benefits of supplementary Vitamin C, which can be useful for horses with weakened immune systems.